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From the Desk of
Town Commissioner Chris Staiger

(11/2012) Well, here we are in November already – enjoying that brief interlude between Halloween and the ‘mega’ holiday season from Thanksgiving to Christmas! It’s hard to believe the year has passed so quickly. I think the biggest achievement in town government this year was the Board of Commissioners’ decision to maintain the existing tax rate in the face of decreasing State property tax assessments. While property owners didn’t get a $100 "refund check" signed by a town official, the great majority of property owners in town should have seen an approximately 20 percent decrease in their annual tax bill. This reduction will substantially reduce the amount you pay the taxman or your mortgage company.

My primary focus as an elected official has always been to provide necessary town services in a fiscally responsible manner - taking firm action evaluating spending proposals, especially at each year’s budget review sessions. For the last seven years, the Board has effectively trimmed proposed increases by finding savings and errors that allow us to avoid tax rate increases while expanding support for essential services and repairs.

The docket for October town business was pretty slim. The October 1 meeting saw the installation of re-elected commissioners Cliff Sweeney and Tim O’Donnell as well as the annual reorganization of the Board of Commissioners. It’s no secret that some changes took place! The three commissioners voting with the Mayor were rewarded with the top three offices – Glenn Blanchard as President, Tim O’Donnell as Vice President, and Cliff Sweeney as Treasurer. Those voting against the proposal received committee assignments. Suffice it to say that there is now a team in place amenable to supporting the Mayor’s agenda.

At the October 15 meeting, the Board considered a proposal eliminating parking on Silo Hill Parkway between the car wash and the Sleep Inn. The property owner of the two large lots in between had requested this change, claiming it would aid his efforts to sell the properties. The plan presented by town staff established a time line for eliminating the parking, but it did not address the possible impacts on neighboring businesses and homeowners should the displaced commuters invade those areas instead. While the commuters are probably not town residents, the likely inconvenience to neighboring property owners resulted in a lack of support for the proposal.

On other town government issues, a separate article in this addition explains 2012 planning activities but it’s worth noting that outside of the Architectural Guidelines (which were written by a town resident, not town staff), little beyond daily work has been accomplished other than two grant awards. The Board requested the development of policies to support the architectural guidelines, but nothing has been pursued, so they stand alone and unenforceable.

Meanwhile, the window dressing projects for which we have received state funding are worthwhile pursuing – but we should be able to do more! In the past we were able to secure multi-million dollar water and sewer infrastructure improvement grants (Seton Ave. and Lincoln Ave. water and sewer line repairs as well as grants for the new Sewer Treatment plant) while also producing a Comprehensive Plan and rezoning of the town to rationalize the direction of future growth. I’m confused why we are unable to multi task now when the grants we apply for are only in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Façade improvement and developing plans for a redesigned town square are indeed good things – I’ve supported them before in this space and at meetings – but they can’t be the ONLY things. In the end, they are not even the real drivers of economic development. We should be developing positions on the nature of our community and the direction we want to head. These will supplement the general goals of the Comprehensive Plan with officially endorsed town policies that tie us together as a community. We can then adopt or change ordinances supporting business development – perhaps providing economic incentives instead of just figuring out how much tax revenue we can collect.

There’s been a disturbing lack of transparency to date as the Administration cherry picks participants of working groups, design partners, and potential projects to utilize grant monies – all without opening the process up to full participation of those who might qualify. Meanwhile, extra raises are awarded to try to mollify employee dissatisfaction with their new duties and plans seem to be afoot to increase some salaries in order to focus additional resources on the Mayor’s limited agenda.

While I am now in somewhat less of a position to organize effective oversight, and, if necessary, opposition to Administration proposals, I will continue to provide an honest and PUBLIC counterpoint during Board meetings – not attempt to arrange coalitions with individual commissioners outside the public meeting process. That type of activity may be "Politics" but we don’t need that here. I’ve learned not to trust the ‘aw shucks’ smiles and handshakes…Sincerely, Chris Staiger.

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